Local Government Bill [Lords] — 11 Apr 2000

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State rang me last night sending his apologies to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He also sent very special greetings to the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). My right hon. Friend has, of course, been in Japan at a G8 meeting of Environment Ministers, and has also had a meeting with the new Japanese Prime Minister. He is currently travelling home.

Holding meetings in public would merely create a theatrical experience for onlookers.

significant decisions should not be a surprise to those whom they affect.

promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Local Government Bill [ Lords ] because it is a centralising measure which will have the effect of undermining local democracy, because it will put pressure on local councils to introduce structures which may not suit local needs and circumstances, which will tend to encourage and facilitate a culture of secrecy and lack of consultation, engender corruption, diminish the role of ordinary councillors, encourage the growth of a class of professional local politicians with large salaries, pensions and other fringe benefits, and place officers in a position of potential conflict of interest, because the arrangements in the Bill for the conduct of local referenda in respect of elected mayors are inadequate, because the new power to promote economic, social and environmental well-being, while welcome in principle, is insufficiently defined and overly subject to ministerial interference, because the powers being taken relating to the frequency of elections are too centralising in their nature, and because, although containing welcome provisions relating to the protection of school children from the promotion of homosexuality in schools and from bullying, and the conduct of local councillors and officers, it fails to provide for open, accountable and empowered local government with councils adopting structures that best suit local needs, including modernised and streamlined versions of the committee system".

should be liberated from the fetters of Whitehall and the stupid restrictions of the Treasury that inhibit growth and destroy jobs . . .

the strange death of local democracy . . .

Some of our Councils are quite frankly very badly run . . . The Party is usually controlled by a small clique and they have very poor relationships with the community which they serve.

we are now finding a Labour Government removing the rights Mrs. Thatcher gave us.

It was the Prime Minister who said:

The first right of a citizen in a mature democracy should be the right of information. It is time to sweep away the cobwebs of secrecy which hang over far too much Government activity.

decisions made behind locked doors . . . is exactly how Hitler started and it is a very dangerous precedent for a modern city like Birmingham?

A cloak of secrecy could descend on important council decision making in Hull.

Details of any targets agreed with local government are not held centrally--[ Official Report , 2 December 1999; Vol. 340, c. 273W.]

revitalise local democracy and modernise public services.

councils more efficient, transparent and accountable.

At no stage of English history has any Government held a consistent and logical policy on the range of limits of municipal services. Local government was not evolved to provide a

co-ordinated system of administration for a logically defined range of services; it emerged, piecemeal, in answer to a succession of separate needs and demands.

Local decision making should be less constrained by central government and also more accountable to local people.

should be less constrained by central government

to create dynamic local government that listens to what people really want--how they want to be governed and how they want their services to be delivered.

relies on the bond of trust between the people and those who represent them . . .

I did four years on the council and it did my head in.

Will the Leader of the Council state how the Chair of the Lifelong Learning Select Committee is meant to have any credibility in performing scrutiny of the Executive when he is quoted as announcing the administration's policies to the press?

He has obviously taken lessons from the Labour Party. Oh Dear!

it masks a real shift of power away from local government and back to control by Whitehall. We could, unless we are careful, be witnessing the strange death of local democracy . . . the fact is that "frontline first" and the general move toward more ring-fencing of resources are pushing relentlessly in the direction of greater central control.

Downing Street, the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health are all expressing interest in radical options to channel funds directly to services without the involvement of local government--so-called "frontline first" funding.

Ideas include giving funds directly to the country's 25,000 schools, and handing care of the elderly to health authorities.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisers believe attacking councils is a vote winner. There is strong and persistent spin coming from Downing Street that Mr Blair wants results and sees local government as bureaucracy standing in the way.

more time representing their communities--

Regulations . . . may make provision for or in connection with preventing the whole or part of any record or document containing prescribed information from being made available to members of the public.

The first right of a citizen in any mature democracy should be the right to information.

We want to end the obsessive and unnecessary secrecy which surrounds government activity and make government information available to the public, unless there are good reasons not to do so.

That rings hollow after last week's debate on the Freedom of Information Bill and sits ill with the arrangements on local government cabinet secrecy.

without the press or public allowed in to listen to the debate of councillors, these secret meetings will leave us open to . . . abuse of power.

To the present leadership of Lambeth council

eight politicians wanting to decide our future in secret.

Ten councillors sit in single-party Cabinet meetings closed to the public. Afterwards the council issues a list of recommendations to a further committee, which although held in public, has been accused of "rubber-stamping" Cabinet decisions.

shall not . . . intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;

promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

The current debate is not about homophobia, or discrimination, or intolerance. It is about education. It is perfectly natural that parents should be concerned that their children will be exposed to material that they do not consider either appropriate or advisable. Our politicians are imposing a values-free policy of political correctness on children, parents and society in general.

Section 28 is the logical outworking of putting the family at the heart of a stable society. It is, of course, discriminatory. Yet the setting of all values is a form of choice and discrimination in favour of certain moral principles.

My son is gay and has lived his life being bullied at school. His life has been an absolute misery.

I, like most of the nation, cringed at the very thought of homosexuality (not knowing my son was gay.) I have recently found out and am so ashamed that I have been so ignorant of all the facts, believing that this was a life choice and not understanding that there is no choice in this matter--that it is purely a fact of nature.

I now have to live with the fact that my ignorance has been a factor in how my son now feels about himself. He spends most of his time in a depressed and suicidal state.

And yes, I do blame myself for this because he has been conditioned by myself to believe there is only one way to live and that is to marry someone of the opposite sex.

If children could go to their teachers and tell them why they are being bullied and it could be discussed in an open way, I'm sure that by the time they reach adulthood they would not feel ashamed and disgusted about themselves.

This matter has touched me in a way I couldn't have imagined. I can't do much to help my son. I can't change the way people think. I can't educate people or make them understand what it can do to a young person--how society can make them want to commit suicide.

But you and people like you can.

[Interruption.] It is a great shame that four of the greater exponents of keeping section 28 on the statute book are not even interested in listening to that lady's letter--the mother who has had the responsibility of bringing up that child.

My son David is 7-years old and already he is bullied at school for having gay parents. When he started school at 5 he thought there was no difference between having gay parents and straight parents. Not any more.

We have been staggered at the levels of homophobia in schools.

Hug a friend of the same gender and you are gay.

Use a smaller girl's knife at lunchtime and you are gay.

It's not all aimed at him.

It is just a term of abuse. Like nigger used to be when society sanctioned racial prejudice, like Section 28 sanctions homophobia.

The school knows about this kind of abuse, but feels unable to challenge it because of Section 28.

How do you think these children are going to feel about their sexuality when it has been an officially sanctioned term of abuse throughout their childhood?

The Conservative party is quite clear. We believe that no public money should be spent promoting homosexuality. Public money should be used to raise educational standards.

Bullying is wrong. We do not believe that section 28 provides any legal impediment to teachers to tackle bullying.

Although the direct legal effect of Section 28 on school policies is minimal, the existence of the legislation sends a clear signal that there may be something dangerous or wrong about addressing the needs of gay pupils.

This is an unnecessary, damaging and confusing message for teachers which adversely affects the lives of the young people with whom they work.

Key point. Parents want the comfort of knowing that homosexuality cannot be promoted in schools at public expense, and that their children are protected.

I was asked to interview a young 15-year old boy who had not attended formal education for two years. It soon transpired that his failure to attend school had been due to vicious homophobic bullying.

This resulted in a severe breakdown and admission to a psychiatric unit.

He also told me that had been self-abusing and showed me his scars. Both his arms are covered by a huge series of scars from knife cutting.

When I was at school, there was a swing park next to Airdrie hospital, and next to this there was a set of public toilets.

The one painful memory I have is that a young man was beaten to death in those toilets late one night.

His face had been kicked and booted so badly that his face was no longer recognisable as a face.

I do remember how everyone at school was laughing about it because the general idea was that he was gay and therefore his death was a good thing.

The fact that he suffered an inhumane death . . . was irrelevant.

I know of young kids who have been beaten up at school because they were perceived to be gay, and the school did nothing about it.

A young man called Darren committed suicide last year because he could no longer go on suffering the beatings and the abuse.

His teachers knew all about it, but because of Section 28 felt obliged to ignore it.

Section 28 drove him to suicide.

How many other young children has it driven to suicide, or suffered brutally . . . ?

We will never know, but it cannot be denied that such a situation is immoral and unfair.

Section 28 is crude in its concept. Slanderous in its drafting. Vicious in its purpose.

Local decision-making should be less constrained by central government . . .

more accountable to local people.

We will place on councils a new duty to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.

They should work in partnership with local people, local business and local voluntary organisations.

They will have the powers necessary to develop these partnerships. To ensure greater accountability, a proportion of councillors in each locality will be elected annually.

undemocratic that a small Cabinet of 8 make all the decisions and . . . the other 31 . . .

Southend's council leader could be set for a 100 per cent increase in allowances under new recommendations revealed today.

Under the new set-up, the process for installing the Lord Mayor took less than three minutes instead of the usual two hours, there was no civic lunch and the Lord Mayor drove himself home instead of having a chauffeur-driven car, saving Council Taxpayers thousands of pounds.

Mayors are likely to be responsible for many decisions, which they will effectively take on their own. Individual "cabinet members" may also be given similar powers, and officials will be responsible for taking a wider range of decisions. As these decisions will not be taken at "meetings" the 1985 Act cannot directly apply.

However, the Bill should be amended so that the public is given equivalent rights to see papers before decisions. That is reports, recommendations and background papers should be open to the public unless they contain exempt information.

The Bill should also be amended to require a short period of delay (a week has been suggested) before executive decisions can be implemented, with powers for non-executive councillors or a scrutiny committee.

The Bill includes measures to improve ethical standards. But if decisions are taken in private, by the executives and individual politicians, there will be less scrutiny of whether councillors' private and financial interests are properly declared, and less oversight of the award of contracts and of appointments to outside bodies.

Removing the requirement to publish agendas and papers in advance of decisions could encourage legal advice to politicians, and it will be harder for the monitoring officer to fulfil his/her responsibilities to ensure decision making is legal and ethical.

The problem is that someone decided that they were going to make the abolition of section 28 a crusade.

We have lost the support of a large section of the electorate and we have lost the support of Scotland's leading Catholic cleric.

The Government needs to be very clear why it is going down this road. Section 28 has not caused difficulties but has constituted a protection which by and large has been welcomed.

Civilised societies have always restrained sexual activity. Until comparatively recently, social control strongly promoted marriage. Homosexual proselytism seeks to reverse this and to manipulate young people into seeing homosexuality as an acceptable and morally right lifestyle.

Before Section 28 came into force we were getting considerable numbers of parents complaining to us about the promotion of homosexuality in schools. After Section 28 it almost disappeared as an issue. If Section 28 were to be repealed it's almost certain that the promotion of homosexuality would become a huge bone of contention between parents and schools.

Elements of sex and relationship education are also provided by a range of people in the wider community including health professionals, social workers, youth workers, peer educators and visitors.

consider one explanation of a family.

Finish by making the point that different people live together as a family and what is important is that they love and care for each other.

about 50 per cent. of women and men have experienced a sexual attraction to someone of the same sex.

nearly 40 per cent. of all men had sex with another man at some point in their lives.

When grown-ups choose someone to be one of their sexual partners, they sometimes choose a person of the same sex and they sometimes choose a person of the other sex. Some big words are sometimes used to name people by the sex partners they choose.

a female sex industry worker--

a Chinese bisexual 15 year old Young Man,

a transvestite cabaret artist, a Black Disabled Lesbian who is a wheelchair user and a nun.

witnessing the strange death of local democracy...?

reducing the flow of information to the public and the media as a result of reforms . . .

cabinets or executives, meeting behind closed doors, which are now being imposed will deny basic access to local democracy...?

if being "executive" means delving into operational management then the clock will have been put back several years, and the promises of modernisation will turn to dust.?

we are now finding a Labour government removing the rights Mrs Thatcher gave us...?

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 130, Noes 342.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 128 (+2 tell)081.3%
Independent1 0033.3%
Lab312 (+2 tell) 0075.7%
LDem24 0256.5%
PC2 0050.0%
SNP1 0016.7%
Total:340 128274.8%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

Sort by: Name | Constituency | Party | Vote

Andrew GeorgeSt IvesLDem (front bench)both
Evan HarrisOxford West and AbingdonLDemboth

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